The Day after Christmas

A lot of Christmas Gifts
Around our house, the day after Thanksgiving and the one after Christmas are predictable. Except for this year.

In my rush to avoid Christmas, a few traditions got trampled underfoot. The biggest ones had to do with seasonal decorations.

In the Hughson house, the day after Thanksgiving means decorating for Christmas.

It involves lugging dozens of boxes in from the garage, emptying them and refilling them with non-seasonal knick-knacks.

Two things interfered with that this year:

  • Selling our house
  • A vacation to Mexico

The extent of decorating my house: I pulled a centerpiece my mother bought me several years ago off the top shelf of a rack in the garage. I unwrapped it from its garbage bag and placed it in the center of the dining room table.

I removed the autumn leave centerpiece and table runner and put them away in the laundry room.

Decorating: Done

One lonely angel proclaims that Jesus is the Reason for the Season
One lonely angel proclaims that Jesus is the Reason for the Season

Of course, this lack of decorations affected today’s traditional UN-decorating of the house and tree. There was nothing to take down – not even a string of Christmas lights (which are my favorite decoration of this holiday season).

What are your holiday traditions? Have circumstances altered or derailed these traditions?

Eye of the Soul

Fantasy novels entice me. As you know, I’ve learned that novels of epic scope aren’t really my cup of coffee. Novels with an epic premise or story? That would be Eye of the Soul by Terri Rochenski.

I was introduced to the writing of Rochenski through an anthology I bought to support one of my writer friends. You can check it out here. Since that time, I’ve been following the publisher, J. Taylor Publishing, on Facebook.

When they posted that the first book in a series would be FREE to celebrate the release of the second book in the series, you know what happened. I clicked the link. Amazon offered its wonderful “Buy now with 1-click” option and another book added itself to the ever-expanding queue.

Not every book in that queue will be read by me. Several I snagged for FREE weren’t worth the price I paid for them.

Not so with Eye of the Soul.

The Blurb

Copied from Goodreads:

“Escape.

That should be Hyla’s first thought as her people are chained and imprisoned for no imaginable reason. Instead, Hyla finds herself traveling through a land void of Natives, with human soldiers pillaging in desperate pursuit of her, and in search of the mystical Pool of Souls—home to the one man who can save her people.

Or so she believes.

Led by her faith in the deity Fadir, Hyla is met along her journey by Jadon—a human male and fierce King’s warrior, and his childhood best friend Conlin—one of the few Natives aware of his Fadir-given Talents. Protected by Jadon, guided by Conlin, and with an unfailing belief in the purpose of her pilgrimage, Hyla carries on.

Like her, though, another searches for the Pool, and should he gain access first, everyone she loves, and everything she knows, could be lost.

Forever.”

My Review

The novel opens with the capture of Natives by an ambitious High Priest. The Natives appear as elves in my mind – fair skin, pointed ears, (supposed) mystical abilities. I liked that Rochenski uses a different name for them, leaving her plenty of space to conform them to the story she’s telling.

Hyla, a nineteen-year-old orphan, is away collecting roots and herbs for the healers when the attack comes. Right away, we see she is fearful, which makes the reader wonder why. That backstory is sprinkled in at all the right moments.

Through a number of narrators, the story unfolds. A High Priest with a vendetta against the deity of the Natives emerges as the villain. We want to hate him; his despicable misuse of power and authority begs it. Yet, we see he has a secret past – a motivation not unlike that of Mr. Freeze (of Batman fame).

Jadon and Conlin enter the story as childhood friends who share the spotlight as the male heroes in the story. They are like night and day, but their camaraderie and realistic interactions pull the reader further in to this fictional realm.

Hyla’s Talent (mystical power) is the only one that isn’t dormant as the story opens. And she resents it because it shows her the true intentions behind every word and deed. It’s a curse, and she doesn’t understand why the king and others want to use it. How can it help win a war?

In a dream, she is called to the Pool of Souls. When the High Priest discovers its location, he sends his own combined group of soldiers and gifted (but unawakened – so he believes) Natives.

Conflict unfolds and the course is clear. Who will make it to the Pool? What does the Pool actually do? Will Hyla accept her calling? And, will she choose Conlin or Jadon?

The characters are well-formed and realistic.  Although the motivations of some of them are unclear or questionable, most of them acted and reacted consistently. Intrigue surrounds the powers of a few “non-Native” people in the story: where did their powers come from? Why do humans have these “gifts”?

The problem is straight-forward and the plot un-convoluted. We know the goals of the characters and, except where they are keeping a secret, we understand what motivates them. This is by no means a simple story, it is just easy to follow. Rather than shrouding information, the author shares it – to the end that it creates more questions and adds tension.

My Recommendation

This story gets a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars from me. It took me awhile to decide I liked Hyla – needed to understand what made her so mistrustful. Although Jadon is likeable, he seems rather stereotypical. If it weren’t for his friendship and interaction with Conlin, I might have written him off as an egotistical, womanizing jerk.

Give these characters the chance to grow on you, and you won’t be disappointed. Nothing about the story line or premise (racial discrimination, anti-religion and revolutionary tendencies) disappoints.

This is the first book in a series. I’m delighted to meet these characters again. I’m also thrilled that Rochenski handled the story in the proper way: one problem for this book is tackled and resolved, while the larger series problem is clear but still hangs overhead at the end of the book.

The epilogue introduces a new twist and creates immediate anxiety because it pushes one of the heroes into the line of fire. This is a great way to encourage readers to put down book one with the left hand and pick up book two with the right. It was added to my Amazon wish list with a single click, and you’ll see it on my Goodreads “TBR” list, as well.

If you like magic, sword fighting and quests, this is a book you’ll want to read. Whether you’re looking for a great story or a deep story, Eye of the Soul grants your wish.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

A Daughter – Finally!

I have two handsome sons. In December 2015 January 2016, I will finally get a daughter!

No, this isn’t the longest pregnancy in the history of womankind. It doesn’t involve childbirth at ALL.

My youngest son is getting married.

I love my new daughter-to-be. Besides making my son happy (which is important to Mama Bear), she’s a wonderful person.

Everyone who knows me has heard me loudly give thanks that I had two boys. Dodging the epic drama caused by residing in proximity to a teenage girl is reason enough. Not that all drama was dodged – have you met my youngest son? – but it was nothing compared to what a daughter would have brought home.

Now, however, I’m ready to have a daughter (or two, if only my other son would pop the question to his long-time girlfriend). There are so many things to share with a daughter that sons don’t care about.

You know what I mean, right? Things like:

  • Shopping
  • Baking
  • Home décor
  • Color schemes
  • Holiday planning
  • Discussion of many topics

What’s even more humbling for me is: she wants to include me in the wedding planning process.

I love weddings. I think every wedding should be unique and reflect the personalities and values of the couple being united.

My own wedding was a fiasco, of sorts. Well, not the actual wedding, although it wouldn’t be a wedding if there weren’t a few unexpected occurrences. It was the planning phase of my wedding that caused more fallout than a nuclear blast.

It’s not worth rehashing. Suffice it to say, I decided right then that I was NOT GOING TO BE THAT MOTHER. If asked, I would offer my opinion, but my financial aid would not be contingent upon getting me way.

Whose wedding is it anyway?

It’s not my wedding. It is my son and daughter’s (*smiling just saying this*) special day. It should be where they want, including who they ask. Decorations, attire, food choices and anything else should be their choice.

Later this month, I get to go on the first wedding dress shopping trip. I’m so honored to be asked to join in with her mom and girlfriends.

Now, to practice buttoning my lip and seasoning my opinions with grace…

Do you have sons or daughters? Any wedding stories you want to share?

Judgment of the Six: (Un)Bidden

unbidden_ebookI discovered two series earlier this year that had several books in them. I devoured both of them and was eagerly awaiting the next book in both. Melissa Haag released her fourth book just to quench my thirst.

Or maybe it isn’t just about me. Either way, I happily pre-ordered the book, anxious to see what happens next in the series.

The Blurb

“I left home because I didn’t want to end up in a cage like a lab rat. Hitching rides, begging for cash, and sleeping on the ground got old fast. That was the only reason I braved an overgrown path to a group of buildings. I’d hoped to find a bed and a decent night’s sleep. However, what I found was a place overrun by werewolves.

While on the run, Charlene finds herself surrounded by werewolves, creatures she can’t control with her mind like she can humans. Their existence has her believing she’s found a safe place to stay, a place where secrets are okay. However, she soon discovers she’s anything but safe. Charlene must learn how to use her abilities to influence the strange new species because if she can’t, the next bite she suffers might just kill her.”

The Good News

If you haven’t started reading this series, I suggest starting with book four (Un)Bidden. Aside from the first and last scenes, the book happens prior to the rest of the series.

In this book, we finally learn what Charlene’s special gift is and how she might fit into the bigger picture. Most importantly to me, we discover more about the origin of Thomas’ pack and the compound which is central in all of the books.

As with the other books, this story hits the ground running. Charlene is another teenager with inexplicable powers. Her reason for running, however, it different from that of most of the other girls.

All of that comes to light in this book. We learn how the Urbat discovered the new cycle was underway.

The Bad News

If you have been biting your nails to learn how they find Peace and unite against the Urbat, you won’t learn that in this book. I admit, I was disappointed that the story didn’t move forward in time from where we left it at the end of book three.

For about three chapters. After that, I was totally immersed in Charlene’s story and wondered how things would ever work out.

The bad news is we have to wait until early in 2015 to find out about Peace and how the story moves forward.

My Recommendation

If you haven’t read this series, start with book four. Ignore the first and last scenes until after you read the other books because you won’t know any of the people mentioned.

Enjoy starting at the beginning, with Charlene. I think you will appreciate the other books much more in this order.

My favorite book in the series is still Book One Hope(less). I have enjoyed all of them, though, but the way the romance developed in the first book is my favorite. After that, this fourth book ranks second.

In the other two books, the women are under so much duress because they’re fleeing the Urbat. It makes the romantic element take on a fervor that doesn’t ring as true with me. Exciting, yes. Realistic, maybe not. A lasting love, I doubt it.

Melissa Haag tells exceptional stories. If you like paranormal romance, you will want to read this. If you are a member of “Team Jacob,” you will find these wolves even more appealing.

Buy this book. Read it. Then go back and read the rest of the Judgement of Six series: Hope(less), (Mis)fortune and (Un)wise.

All I Want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas is to skip the whole thing.

I’m not looking forward to it. At all. I have reasons. Darn good ones too. So why don’t you hear me out before you label me “Scrooge” and move on?

Reason #1

Last year my mother was in the hospital at Christmas. This year – she’s in Heaven.

While that’s great for her, it leaves a pretty large hole in our family. If you knew my mother, you would understand that her shoes might have appeared small, but they are impossibly unfillable.

Just like I cried through Mother’s Day, I have to face my first Christmas without my mom. It’s not easy. They say people are more depressed at Christmas than any other time of the year. And I can see it.

It’s a time built around memories. Sometimes memories hurt. Grief cuts like a knife.

This is the biggest reason I vote for skipping directly from December 23rd to December 26th this year. I have others…

Reason #2

Things are changing in the old Hughson household.

This year, Christmas morning will be different. Next year, it will be different again. I’m the one who instituted a host of Christmas morning traditions. Same breakfast. Same cocoa. Same reading of Luke 2.

Change is great. It is inevitable. It is not for Christmas.

Reason #3

I am going to Mexico for a week and return home on December 20th.

This is great news for my sun-loving psyche.

This is horrible news for the traditional holiday baking plans. I am not planning to decorate my house – must keep it staged for prospective buyers for one thing. Who will water the tree while we’re gone? Why do I want to expend energy decorating when I’ll be gone for a week?

Reason #4

I get sick of all the hype and materialism. I’ve posted about that subject in the past.

Christmas is about two things in my world: Jesus and family. None of that needs a Black Friday for shopping explosions and excellent deals. I’m happy to sit around singing carols and playing games while with my family. Who wants to fight the crowds to find the perfect gift only to realize – there is no such thing?

Reason #5

Everything gets topsy-turvy in my daily schedule once December arrives.

I just want to lock myself away with my computer and finish writing something. I want to check off my writing goals and reach that pedestal of published bliss.

Yes, I’m out of touch with reality. This could be why I write fantasy novels.

No one is going to fast forward past the next few weeks. I don’t want to miss a moment of the family vacation in Mexico.

I might want to skip Christmas, but it won’t happen. As the Grinch found out,

“He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!”

I guess there’s no chance for me to actually skip Christmas, is there? In that case, all I want for Christmas is … a happy day with my family.

What’s for dinner – when I’m eating alone?

In an empty nest, there’s no need for a four-course meal served on fine china. In fact, sometimes grilled cheese and tomato soup are exactly what’s for dinner when I’m cooking for two.

My oldest son still lives with us, but since his girlfriend has moved to the area, he doesn’t come home for dinner every night anymore. That means my days of cooking for two can continue. *Twirls around, humming and laughing*

Recently, my husband had to travel for work. My son was at his girlfriend’s house for three of those five days. If you think cooking for two is easy, here’s my menu when I cooked for one.

Dinner One

A bowl of Raisin Bran with milk and a bunch of grapes.

Dinner Two

Twelve Wheat Thins with a slice of cheese, half a red pepper and a bag of popcorn an hour later.

Dinner Three

A six-inch sub from Subway.

Better yet, the dinners when I cooked for my son and I weren’t too challenging either. Quesadillas anyone? They happen to be one of his favorite things. A Mexican grilled cheese sandwich is what that is. No need to add tomato soup, a cup of salsa works.

I wonder if people who live alone eat this simple fare. Or do they cook a single portion of something gourmet? I’m certain I wouldn’t live on cold cereal and popcorn if I only cooked for myself. I can see making a pot of navy bean soup and cornbread. Eat it for three days and then freeze the leftovers for later. I don’t know how gourmet that is.

I do understand that eating out is hazardous to health and waistline. Even if you get one of the “under 6 grams of fat” subs from Subway. It also loses its appeal when I eat out too often.

What do you eat when you’re by yourself for dinner? If you live alone, enlighten me to the way of cooking you use.

(Un) Bidden by Melissa Haag

I am not a huge fan of vampire or werewolf stories. I loved the first book in this series and decided to invest in the whole thing. I will post my own complete review on this blog next week.  My Amazon and Goodreads reviews are already live.

Without further ado, I give you Book 4 in the Judgments of the Six series!

 

I left home because I didn’t want to end up in a cage like a lab rat. Hitching rides, begging for cash, and sleeping on the ground got old fast. That was the only reason I braved an overgrown path to a group of buildings. I’d hoped to find a bed and a decent night’s sleep. However, what I found was a place overrun by werewolves.

While on the run, Charlene finds herself surrounded by werewolves, creatures she can’t control with her mind like she can humans. Their existence has her believing she’s found a safe place to stay, a place where secrets are okay. However, she soon discovers she’s anything but safe. Charlene must learn how to use her abilities to influence the strange new species because if she can’t, the next bite she suffers might just kill her.

Read how the cycle begins, and have no doubt. Charlene’s past will shape the future of the Judgements.

BUY IT ON AMAZON: http://bit.ly/UnBiddenAM

Have you read the first book, Hope(less), in the series? It’s currently FREE!

Gabby’s brain is like a human fish finder. It comes in handy when she wants to avoid people. Mostly men. They seem to like her a bit too much. It’s lonely being different, but she’s adapted to it. Really. She just wishes she knew why she is different, though.

In her search for answers, she discovers a hidden community of werewolves. She immerses herself in their culture, learning about their world until she meets Clay. He’s unkempt, prone to mood swings, intense without saying a word, and he thinks Gabby is his.

It’s going to take every trick she knows to convince Clay to go away, and every bit of willpower not to fall for him when she discovers the man beneath the rough exterior.

Delve into a riveting world of werewolves and young women with unexplained abilities, in Hope(less).

BUY IT AT:

Amazon: http://bit.ly/HopelessAm

B&N: http://bit.ly/HopelessBN

Kobo: http://bit.ly/HopelessKobo

Smashwords: http://bit.ly/HopelessSW

iTunes: http://bit.ly/HopelessiT

~*~ABOUT THE AUTHOR~*~

Melissa Haag currently resides in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. Touch is her first published novel. She is currently working on book five of a separate six book series. To learn more about her upcoming projects, visit her at: http://melissahaag.com , and you can connect with her on: https://twitter.com/imagine2live & https://www.facebook.com/author.MelissaHaag

 

Why Every (Newbie) Author Needs an Editor

I’m a newbie novice when it comes to writing novels. Not an ounce of shame taints this admission. If I send sub-par work into the world of readers because I don’t see the need for an editor, that’s when I’ll be ashamed.

In the past fifteen months, I have completed five first drafts. This amounts to about 350,000 words. I should be getting the hang of this writing thing after all that, shouldn’t I?

If I compare the first novel with the last, the improvement is easily identifiable. To me, anyway. A professional editor might see things differently. This is the reason you should hire one before you publish your “masterpiece.”

Lucky me, I won a 25,000 word critique from the amazing Jami Gold. As full-time writer who has not sold a single story, I appreciated this windfall more than a winning Lotto ticket. After experiencing Jami’s professional white glove treatment, I can recommend her services.

What I expected

  • A thorough critique of the manuscript – written within the document so examples of the flaws were showcased
  • Advice about my characters
  • Analysis of my story structure: the first turning point at least
  • Identification of recurring writing weaknesses
  • Discussion of my overall writing voice and its effectiveness
  • Confirmation that my story premise worked
  • Discussion of the story problem and stakes

What she delivered

  • A thorough critique of the manuscript. Besides lengthy notations within the manuscript, Jami provided four pages of explanation about the larger issues – good and bad – in the story
  • Advice about my characters. She analyzed the character arc of both protagonists, discussed their shortfalls, remarked about how to improve them. In short, I saw my characters in a different spotlight after reading her comments.
  • Analysis of my story structure. Jami identified the story problem but couldn’t pinpoint my character’s driving needs. Because of this, she didn’t see the first turning point the way I had when I wrote the story. Obviously, this is an issue – with my writing, not her editing.
  • Identification of recurring writing weaknesses. Do I really need to list these? Suffice it to say that I’m still doing more telling than showing. My descriptions are over the top (quite surprising) and often unrealistically delivered. Too many participles. Not enough strong verbs. Even a grammar issue (when to use ‘the’ rather than ‘a.’)
  • Discussion of my overall writing voice and its effectiveness. My third person POV didn’t go deep enough. My characters could be heard loud and clear in only a few sentences. If I want my readers to buy in, I need to delve more deeply into the psyche of these people who tell this story.
  • Confirmation that my story premise worked. Right off the bat, Jami raved about how well I nailed this. My thanks to Larry Brooks and Kristen Lamb. I learned the importance of this from them. Looks like it penetrated my thick skull and became a part of my writing arsenal.
  • Discussion of the story problem and stakes. Again, I managed to strike it rich. Of course, the lack in my characters rubs off on the overall story problem. Since their motivations are unclear, it holds readers at arm’s length.

My revised opinion

I have seen recommendations from authors who are traditionally published. They tell you not to spend the money on an editor for your manuscript before shopping it with agents and editors. I sighed hugely when I read this advice.

Now I’m going to refute it. Time to face facts: you won’t hook an agent or editor with a manuscript that doesn’t shine. No matter how great of a writer you are or how many degrees you possess, you aren’t the best critic for your written work.

I can slash in red with the best of them (ask my sons who have experienced my unforgiving editing for more than a decade). With a critical eye, I can spot plot holes, weak characterization, telling passages and other major flaws.

No matter how much I squint, I’m too close to my own story to recognize most of these shortcomings. I know what I meant. The characters are my intimate friends so I read between the lines. I see subtext that doesn’t exist. Caricatures are the invisible woman.

If you’ve shopped your story and no one is biting, take the plunge. Spend the money on a developmental edit to ensure your manuscript is sound of structure. Look at it as an investment in your career – like workshops, craft books and conferences.

In the end, your manuscript will shine. You will learn how to write a stronger story. Best of all, your name will appear on the cover of the book you’ve envisioned. And you’ll be proud to have people read your work.

Have I convinced you? Great.

One more thing. Do you have an extra $1000 I can borrow? Really, my friend. Help me get a much-needed developmental edit on my manuscript.

What are your thoughts on critique groups, beta readers and professional edits? Do they all serve the same purpose? Do you believe spending money on an editor is a waste if you’re a newbie seeking traditional publishing?

America’s National Pastime: Allegory for Family

You’ve seen the shirts: “Always October” or “October Together.” That’s America loving baseball: the national pastime. Baseball teaches many lessons, but as an empty nester, I see a clear familial metaphor.

Sure, there are diamonds in both baseball and families. At least, most wives expect a diamond ring or diamond earrings at some point in the relationship. But that isn’t the sort of trite connection I’m talking about.

Image from wikimedia.org

If you’re a baseball genius, this post will irritate you. I don’t know all the lingo (and I suspect only two guys who read this do), so I’ll probably get something wrong. Bear with me. If it’s too annoying, feel free to leave a comment.

I see the family when I watch those nine guys take the field. The biggest reason: the dichotomy of this game. It is clearly a team sport (uh, nine guys – not one), but there are aspects of the game that are all about the individual player.

Family works together and plays together. When someone is down, they pull together to offer support. As a parent of adult children, I’ve learned that we can’t be their pinch-hitter or pinch-runner anymore.

In life, as in baseball, there are some things each person is individually accountable to accomplish.

The Pitcher

No, the pitcher isn’t the one who throws the best insults around the dinner table.

He does play an important role in the offense, though. He needs to be looking out for the team. He can’t throw perfect pitches and expect the opposition not to slam the ball over the wall.

This doesn’t mean the game is all about him, either. When the batter hits, the pitcher needs to trust his team to do their jobs – catch the fly, snag the line drive, make the throw.

To me, the father plays the part of pitcher. He makes things happen (or keeps them from happening) based on his actions. Everyone looks to him – mom, kids. The weight of expectations might be oppressive.

What about the pitcher staring down Barry Bonds? All dad can do is the best he can do. There’s only one dad, but there are eight other players on the field to back him up – encourage him. (This probably makes mom the catcher – giving the signals, talking behind her glove at the mound.)

The outcome of the game shouldn’t rest solely on dad’s shoulders. Everyone has a job to do. Dad sizes up the opposition and does his best to keep them from making trouble for the rest of the family.

The Batter

Everyone takes a turn behind the plate. Some people don’t have much of a swing. If the ball goes beyond the mound, they’re feeling good about their hit (this is me).

Life is full of curves, sliders and fast balls. Sometimes we get nothing but balls with no opportunity to hit it out of the ballpark. Each day: another at bat.

This is one of those things each family member faces alone. Sure, dad can coach you from the dugout (and he is the one who could give decent hitting advice), but a person must swing his own bat.

This is a metaphor for the choices we face in life. Will we choose to take a high-paying job in a field we aren’t crazy about? Should we marry that person we’ve been with for a year? Stay in college or drop out to take an incredible job offer?

Sometimes, we make the right choice and get on base – or even blast it over the fence. Other times we strike out.

Running Bases

Once we get a hit, it would be nice to believe we’re home free. We’re destined to score – succeed – because we put bat to ball.

Just as base runners might get thrown out or stranded, every decision we make in life doesn’t net a positive score. In life, sometimes we might rack up negatives (so glad they don’t do this in baseball – minus a run for every error).

One decision leads to another decision in life. Choosing a certain job leads to relocation, promotions, or lay-offs.

Base running is an individual sport, too. Sure the base coach might give us the signal to steal or keep running when the ball is hit deep. That’s the advice you get from parents, siblings and other family members.

If you get thrown out stealing second base, however, you’re the one who pays. Ultimately, you make the decisions in your life and you get to live with the consequences.

Fielding Hits

When we start talking about these next items, we’ve shifted from offense to defense. That is true in our family, as well.

When problems come, do we avoid the afflicted member? Do we hang them out to dry? Not if we’re good defenders. We back them up, cover their blind side and cheer them on.

On the surface, fielding might look like another individual aspect of the game. Don’t be fooled. The short stop can jump up and snag a ball intended for center field. The second baseman can dive into the dirt, stopping a speeding grounder destined to be a base hit.

A good teammate looks to make the play – help their family member. If you wave them off, they’re still hovering nearby – just in case. Backing you up, offering support and encouragement. This includes a high five when the catch is made.

Making a Double Play

No doubt that it takes more than one member of the family to make a double play. During the 2014 World Series, a few of these beauties made this writer gasp. “Replay it,” I kept saying. “Can you believe he made that stop (catch, throw)?”

Usually at least three teammates will be involved in the double play (especially the awesome one between Panik, Crawford and Belt of the San Francisco Giants – video above). The second baseman grabs the grounder speeding between first and second base. Shortstop is on the move to cover the bag. A toss to him –out at second – and then the slingshot over to first base.

Think of times when your brother, sister, uncle, cousin, whoever-you’re-related-to stepped in to help you with something. It could be moving from your first apartment to your new house. Or taking you in when you lost your job.

To me, the best example of a double play is when someone is sick. You cover for them – cook meals, drive kids around, clean the house. Most of the time, the more people involved in this, the better.

Winning (or Losing) the Game

Okay, no one wants to lose the game. Ever. Any game, not just baseball.

In life, there’s likely to be more times when it feels like you’re losing. Your team (family) needs you to huddle up with them during this time. Don’t push them away – hoping to lick your wounds in peace. Let them commiserate. Believe me, when you’re hurting, your family hurts for you (or with you – or both).

As for winning, don’t be the negative jerk in the family. “Yeah, but we only won because they dropped the ball at home plate.”

We won! That’s the point.

Celebrate the successes of your family members. Graduated college – rejoice! Got a promotion at work – hallelujah! Life is short, celebrate every little thing.

Be a team player! Look around your family and see the needs. Are you really going to strand a runner? Is there anything worse than that in a close game?

Don’t whine when you strike out; learn from the mistake and get a hit next time. Don’t resent the people hovering near to back you up; they want to help.

Most of all, keep your eyes open. Be aware of what’s happening with your family members, that’s the only way you’ll know when the field is ripe for a double play.

What important areas have I overlooked? Maybe this allegory doesn’t work in your mind. What would you compare baseball to?

Five things that make a Book Riveting

Some books skyrocket to the top of the sales charts. I’ve read a few and wondered why they were so popular. I’m sure you have, too. Most people agree on the ingredients that keep readers reading once they open a book.

I’m a voracious reader. If you’ve followed this blog long, you’ve seen a number of book reviews. You’ll notice that I don’t love a book just because it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner. Nor does the fact something was penned by Shakespeare guarantee my adoration.

On the other side of my brain, however, I’m a writer. As a writer, I need to know the elements of a breakout novel – so I can pen one. If it’s so subjective, how can I ever be sure?

It’s not really all that subjective

The truth is: nearly all best-sellers share important qualities. A truly stellar book will have all five: character, plot, tension, voice, and turn of phrase.

Character

A story is about someone. This someone should never be perfect, but whatever their flaws, they have to gain our sympathy. We need to care about them.

I read a book for one of my literature classes about a middle class boy who had a rough upbringing, so he ran away. And became a total juvenile delinquent: breaking into houses and trashing them, living in a bus, and growing weed.

My professor swore this guy was an anti-hero, and I needed to learn how to see that. I still don’t see it – for one reason: The reader must care about the hero (or anti-hero). The author of this book never convinced me that this boy was anything more than a selfish jerk. Did he have reasons? Don’t we all? But there was nothing to redeem him or make me feel his pain. The writer didn’t do their job and deliver a character to care about.

Plot

Plot is simply the story. The events that happen to make the characters reveal themselves and their problems is the plot.

It’s more than that, too. There needs to be a problem introduced early in the story that will be resolved by the end. Each thing that happens and every choice the character makes, moves him closer to (or usually further away from) solving the problem.

If there isn’t a problem, there isn’t a story. If the problem isn’t resolved by the end (it doesn’t have to be a happy ending), the plot isn’t complete, and the reader will walk away feeling cheated.

Tension

Once we have a character who has a problem to solve, something must stand in the way.

If this is just a collection of random bad things that happen on the way to the prom, the reader is going to yawn and close the book. No writer wants a reader to close her book.

Every scene in the story must have tension. It can be tension caused by two characters wanting the same thing. Tension comes when bad things deliberately happen to the characters: chased by bad guys, beat up by the school bully. These things need to be directly related to the character’s attempt to solve the problem.

Secrets add tension. Major reversals add tension. Personality conflicts add tension. Romance can contribute to tension.

Stressed out characters are great. As long as your reader cares about your characters, they will not stop reading while your character is on the edge.

Voice

For me, this is one of the things that might keep me reading if I don’t like the character, and the story seems weak.

Voice is the ability for the reader to hear your character. The words on the page aren’t written by someone else, they are the embodiment of your character. The way he describes things is consistent with his fifteen-year-old vocabulary and world view. He probably isn’t going to describe the colors of the walls, but he’ll notice the gaming system in the corner.

A strong voice keeps the reader snared in the fictional world. A friend is in trouble, and they have to find out what happens.

Turn of Phrase

This is strongly related to voice. Words exist to paint the view an author sees. If the writer chooses the best words and arranges them perfectly, the reader will share the vision.

Some prose makes me laugh. ”The truth? That would earn her the boot and a restraining order.”

Some prose makes me cry. Some draws me completely into the story world.

Some keeps me thinking for days after I’ve closed the book. “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” (from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee).

Any hack can write a story with an interesting character. A few can write this story with so much tension a reader can’t turn the pages quickly enough. A few make the voice of their character stay in your head for days, weeks and months. The true minority, who write a riveting book, can accomplish all that with words that sing the story into memory.

No, I can’t quote lines from books I loved. Not many, anyway. But I could tell you the story and why I liked the character. I could tell you about a scene that made me laugh or cry.

If the writing is average (like most of mine), I probably won’t even be able to tell you the character’s name. Even if I like her.

Do you agree with these essentials? Is there something else you feel is more important? Can you rank these in order of importance to you?